Gresham College Press Release, 05/08/2013


Four Century Old Tradition continued through The Mysteries of Reading and Writing:
Belinda Jack appointed to London’s Oldest Professorship


Gresham College, London’s oldest Higher Education Institution, is delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Belinda Jack as the new Professor of Rhetoric. Her free public lectures on The Mysteries of Reading and Writing will continue the College’s tradition of offering free education for all, which began with the College’s founding in 1597.


The Appointment

Professor Belinda Jack (also Fellow and Tutor in French at Christ Church, University of Oxford) will be the 47th Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College. She follows most recently Sir Richard J. Evans (Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge), and Lord (Peter) Hennessey (Professor of Contemporary British History, Queen Mary, University of London) and many others before him.

This unusual chair was created at the foundation of the College in 1597, when it was considered to be one of the seven subjects essential to a well-rounded gentleman’s education (alongside Astronomy, Divinity, Geometry, Law, Music and Physic). Although initial lectures were restricted to the subject of public speaking and argumentation, the Professorship is today freely interpreted to cover any of the Arts or Humanities. (The Professor is also no longer required to deliver the lectures in Latin as well as English!) Prior incumbents of the Gresham Rhetoric Professorship have spoken on history, politics, philosophy and education amongst other varied fields.


Professor Belinda Jack

Professor Belinda Jack is Fellow and Tutor in French at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She features regularly in the press and media thanks to the popularity and insight of her published works, including books such as The Woman Reader, George Sand: A Woman’s Life Writ Large and Negritude and Literary Criticism: The History and Theory of “Negro-African” Literature in French.

Professor Jack obtained her D.Phil. in Negritude and Literary Criticism at St John’s College, University of Oxford in 1989, having earlier obtained a degree in French with African and Caribbean Studies from the University of Kent. Her academic career over the past twenty years has been at Christ Church, University of Oxford, where she is an ‘Official Student’ (Fellow and Member of the Governing Body) and Tutor in French. Her main interest lies in French literature of the 19th and 20th centuries.

As well as her five books, Professor Jack is widely published through her many articles, essays, chapters and reviews. Her recent articles and reviews have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Literary Review, Times Literary Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement, BBC History Magazine and Littérature. She is a regular on the BBC and international radio and television, as well as a frequent speaker at literary festivals throughout the British Isles and beyond.


Free public lecture series

In her first year of appointment, Professor Jack’s series of six public lectures are on The Mysteries of Reading and Writing.  The hour-long free public lectures will take place at the Museum of London, London Wall, EC2:

What is Reading? – Tuesday 1st October 2013, 6pm
Reading for Pleasure – Tuesday 26th November 2013, 6pm
Ancient Reading in Historical Context – Tuesday 28th January 2014, 6pm
Modern Reading in an Historical Context – Tuesday 25th February 2014, 6pm
Reading as a Reader and Reading as a Critic – Tuesday 8th April 2014, 6pm
How do Novels Beguile? – Tuesday 13th May 2014, 6pm

Professor Jack writes of this series of free public lectures:

“Reading is a subject which has long fascinated me, not least because of my role in teaching undergraduate students to read ‘difficult’ literature with the greatest attention to detail, structure and internal connections. My most recent book, The Woman Reader, is a history of women’s reading from ancient times to the present day, and the writing of it deepened my interest in the subject of reading more generally. My Gresham lectures will draw on some of the material on which I based my book, including material that I didn’t have space to treat, and on the research I am currently undertaking. My primary aim will be to encourage informed reading of a wide range of material, which will make us reconsider literature, ourselves and the society in which we live.”

[Full lecture descriptions are available from the Gresham College website:]



The Rhetoric Professorship at Gresham College dates back to the College’s founding in 1597. The College was set up through the Will of Sir Thomas Gresham, financial advisor to King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and founder of the Royal Exchange. Gresham College was the first higher education institution in England besides the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and it was created with the guiding principle of providing free education for all.

Gresham College has seen the Royal Society formed within the College and past luminaries include Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke. Recent Professors and speakers at the College include: Bill Bryson, Niall Ferguson, Simon Singh, The Rt Hon the Baroness Hale and The Rt Hon the Lord Phillips.

The College fills lecture halls for its four or so free public lectures every week. All Gresham lectures are made available on the internet after the event, where they join the online archive of over 1,500 lectures, all of them free and open for all to enjoy. Earlier this year, the College also launched a free mobile app that allows the viewing of the lectures on iOS and Android devices.

The College today hosts over 120 lectures and events a year, all of them free and open to all. In this we continue Sir Thomas’ aim of helping to make London and the world beyond a better place in which to live and work. The College looks forward to Professor Belinda Jack helping us in this admirable Elizabethan aim.



Further Information and photographs from James Franklin, Gresham College, Barnard’s Inn Hall, Holborn, London, EC1N 2HH    e-mail, telephone 020 7831 0575,